Imagine one of finest places in the world for photography, filled with a vast system of mountains, lakes, and hundreds of miles of wild and untamed rivers and streams. A home for brown bear, eagles, fox, and wolves. Thankfully Katmai is visited by only a small number of people each year. Maybe the fact that this place is not reachable by car has something to do with it, but about only twenty to thirty thousand people visit this area of over four million plus acres each year.
Out of all the locations here, the Pacific coast of Katmai is without doubt one of my favorite places on the planet. One of the best places to shoot on the coast is a bay, about 10 or 11 miles wide, surrounded by mountains and glaciers, and filled with miles of sandy beach and flat sedge meadows strewn with countless driftwood logs. In summer the cool sea breezes fill the warm green meadows where eagles and peregrine falcons soar, and mother brown bear use it as a safe place to eat sedge grass and nurse cubs. Its here that you find one of the most interesting characters you can photograph anywhere, the red fox.
If you visit Katmai with an tour guide or ranger, you can visit places that are fox hunting territories where you can reliably see fox on the prowl! Earlier this year I led my tour group of photographers to a spot that fox love to hunt. Before we even reached the intended location we came across lots of distinctive tracks, with chevron rear pads and 2 oblong claws in the center. These were clearly fox! As we were photographing a mother bear and cubs sleeping on the beach, we realized that we had someone watching us, a male cross fox. It walked out onto the beach, and carefully came right up to one of our photographers… and sat down about four feet away to pose.
This cross fox, an uncommon color variant of the red fox, was very comfortable around our group and took a break from hunting to pose for portraits. In this kind of situation where the animal is unpredictable, fast and habituated, a long prime lens like a 600 or 800mm is just about useless because by the time you move back 10 or 15 feet to get within the minimum focus range of the lens the fox will be gone. A long super tele-zoom like the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens was the perfect solution.
This fox was so comfortable it would walk in close and sit down, sometimes a few feet from your lens.
Fox are so much quicker and nimble than a brown bear they sometimes will taunt and tease the bears, especially when they are close to a fox den or a source of food. The bears seem to have a habit or ignoring fox, and photographers!
Hopefully you can make it to Alaska someday soon to enjoy the almost unlimited photo opportunities there either on a photo tour or on your own. If you have any questions or comments be sure to share ’em in the comments section below.
Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com